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Spaniards in the U-Bahn March 19, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

…I know, I know, it’s serious.

So you’re out. You don’t that much fancy going home, feeling like quite a lot more booze. Thanks to some especially complicated combinations of interweaving U-Bahn lines and building works, the journey home from West to East that would normally be direct now involves a million changes. The permutations see you running between platforms at Wittenbergplatz. “Hm, if we take the U99 fifteen stops to Munich and then get the S-Bahn forty stops and change at Rostock, we should be home by Wednesday.”

It is the early hours. Most folk have imbibed. Which is usually the only time Germans ever make any noise. (When they are sober, they are racked with guilt for existing, and are immersed in friarly silence.) But, darlings, what are a few noisy Germans up against a carriageful of drunk Spaniards?

I sat in a restaurant earlier the same evening. Food standardly poor. The Russian had practically finished his main course, which ACTUALLY had tinned mushrooms and sauce-from-a-packet in it, by the time mine arrived. Waitress amazed that we wanted to order food and wine at all; it was clearly the first time it had happened to her in her career. The Russian and I know everything about each other – OK, that’s not true. I’ve only just discovered he used to collect stamps and metal badges, for example. And that his mother used to collect envelopes – so I spent my time sounding out the neighbours.

There was a provincial solo homo who’d come to Berlin on a shopping trip and to get away from it all and to have some space and some him-time. He was clearly having the most miserable day of his life. He whispered instructions for the waitress to bring him one deadening beer after another, hoping that the whisper slightly wouldn’t make them count. He played with his mobile. “Darling, we’d better befriend him.” “No.”

There was a nice couple on the other side. The girl had short hair which suited her and wore a top accentuating her womanly assets and cried in a nice way. I thought she’d had a bereavement. The Russian thought she’d been sacked. And her boyfriend, who was wearing a lovely boring jumper, dried an eye from across the table with each thumb (boys, it seemed to work awfully well, if you have crying girlfriends, girls, if you have crying new-men boyfriends, queers, lezzers, if you have crying queers, lezzers, and, thanks to the symmetry, there was no tricky left-right, brain-hand coordination to worry about). I remembered the moment in The Elephant Man where our eponymous hero of magnificent cranial dimension says, “I try so hard to be good,” as that normally makes me bucket, to see if the Russian would wipe my tears away with thumbs but I was too worried about my cigarette smoke and hoping that a smoking ban would be introduced that second to get the tears flowing.

Then there were two big tables of Germans. A group of young Germans. And a group of old Germans. And as my brain settled in for a nice bit of national stereotyping – check in soon for my next endearing post, “Why Welsh people have sex with sheep and Scottish people never open their wallets” – I thought Germans are much better old than young. The young Germans spent their whole meal worrying about the bill and when the bill actually came, the waitress needed to take a quick applied mathematics course online simultaneously while working out the minutiae of the payment. “Ja, aber Detlef, you had a bite of my Würstchen, so you must pay 5% of my bill.” “Aber moment, Waltraud,” said Detlef, who was not going to be outverarsched, “you knocked my Spezi-glass and some of it spilled, so I think that cancels out the Würstchen bite.” And so on. Whereas the old Germans were having a great old time of it. Two old couples and a widowed pal. They drank their beer. Pushed their glasses back up on their nose when their uproarious laughter got out of hand. Ate sausagey, cabbagey food without a thought for their waistlines and told stories like there was no tomorrow. Conversation flowed. Along with the booze. We’d gone by the time their bill came but if I know my senior German citizens, one of the men will have magnanimously taken out his EC-Karte and paid for the god-damned lot, brushing away Fritz-Harald and Sybille’s protestations. (Doris the widow will have secretly breathed a sigh of relief.)

“The English are better young than old,” I thought on. Young English people – by young, I mean up to 60, of course – are better at fun than young Germans. Whereas old English people just moan about their holidays and write letters of complaint all the time (in my enormous experience). “French? Better old than young. Danes? Better young than old. Finns? Always perfect. Russians? Better young than old.”

And I thought that was my national stereotyping done for the evening. But then came the Spaniards. My sister lives in Spain. She commented, as we sat in a restaurant in Berlin one evening, how quiet it was…

We got on our carriage with the gaggle of drunk Spaniards. One spoke drunkenly louder than the other till, within about thirty seconds, they were all shouting festively at the top of their voices. Utterly deafening. The Russian and I took our emergency glasses out of our man-bags and put them on so we could sneer over the top of them disapprovingly.

And then the train broke down. All but one of the lights went out so we sat in relative dinge. Which, naturally, the Spaniards decided was a cue to celebrate. They sang songs. They clapped. They played a game which involved kissing each other. And then two of the ladies actually started flamencoing in the carriage, twisting around and making esses with their arms. And then the train shuddered into semi-consciousness, and one of the flamencoing Spaniards fell and slid on her bum a quarter of the way down the carriage, landing perfectly at my feet. She said to me, “I dancing.” And with everyone around erupting into laughter, she thought she’d better make the most of the moment and cocked her head to one side and flipped one arm and one leg out as if receiving applause having just popped out of a cake. Then she showed us her arse, at which point a German gent who was enjoying the show more than anyone shouted, “Show us your tits,” which she didn’t understand, and perhaps just as well, as I’m sure she’d happily have obliged. And then they sang and danced on and the Russian and I and everyone laughed hysterically throughout and commented that there was, undeniably, a hint of cultural difference between Germans and Spaniards.

Spaniards are very good young.



1. 100 Words - March 19, 2007

Somebody once told me you can hire a tube train for parties, which goes round and round the circle line until everyone is too drunk to stand up. Although, thinking about it, maybe they were just talking about buying a normal ticket for the circle line …

2. mountpenguin - March 19, 2007

You can certainly hire a tram for parties in Berlin. I am sure it can be arranged for it to go round and round in circles.

(My memories of the Circle Line in London generally involve waiting on trains which evidently weren’t going anywhere and disembarking after about five minutes once the driver came on the PA and started making remarks about how he could see a train in the tunnel in front and he knew as much about the situation as we did, but would keep us informed if anything happened. I presume things have got worse since then).

3. Daggi - March 19, 2007

There’s a Fondue-Tram (seriously) in Zürich
And Spanish is the 2nd language in Berlin. Forget Turkish or Russian, Spanish is definately the language to learn. If you’re on the U8 or the M10 or M4. Or perhaps they just shout louder than everyone else?

4. liukchik - March 20, 2007

The cultural difference between the Mediterraneans and all other Europeans is immense, and becomes more noticeable as I get older. I think it has something to do with the ‘porosity’ of life in sunnier climes. Whilst waiting for the cablecar in Barcelona during my sojourn, a group of young Italians were in the queue in front of us lolling about, talking loudly, sitting on someone’s car. Even the smallest question was raised to the level of street theatre. Although the UK has now changed sufficiently with the prevalence of people talking loudly into mobile phones, raised voices and gesturing still suggest anger, drunkenness, and/or impending violence. My Russian colleague is horrified on every occsion she encounters Latin Mediterranean types – the Russians I feel are also a dramatically shy and withdrawn nation – unless, of course you happen to do something to offend them.She was recently enraged by a group (again) of young Italians who had managed to block the entire entrance to Swiss Cottage Tube whilst trying to decide which way to take the Tube. And then they became offended when the Britishers ‘excuse me’d them.

5. liukchik - March 20, 2007

So postmodern with your Morrissey-style title;)

6. Daggi - March 20, 2007

The Fondue Tram, I know, I know, I know, it’s serious. And those Spaniards in the tram, there were times when I really could have “strangled” them. But tonight, they were Hamburgers (Hamburgians). That’s a joke accent/dialect if ever I’ve heard them. But pleasant in a way, but probably because I could understand them (as they shouted into their mobiles).

7. pleite - March 20, 2007

Daggi, too true. I do hear a lot of Spanish shouted in Berlin. I did Spanish for one year in school and can still hold a conversation as long as it ends after the ‘How are you?’ bit. And one day I will be able to place German accents. I hear one on the TV and can tell it’s not Hoch or Berlin but buggered if I know if the speaker is from Hamburg or Liechtenstein.

Lukeski, I often found the Russians quick to offend. Though they were better at being offended than the British as, rather than cut you out of their lives or hold a grudge for 23 years, which is what I do, of course, they say, “I’m offended by…” which all took getting used to. I remember so enjoying the opportunity to be friendlily rude with new acquaintances in France. I know you can do it in the UK too, but I think it takes a drop longer. I remember saying as much to my French hostess soon after my arrival in Paris. “I can jokily say, ‘T’es con,’ when I think someone’s talking bollocks.” “What would you say in England?” “How interesting,” I answered, but I was playing to stereotypes. Speaking of which, have you seen Swimming Pool? A bilingual French-English film dubbed into German on TV this evening. Lost in translation indeed.

Penguin, I’ve had London Transport memories surgically removed, but if it’s the Circle Line between Paddington and Notting Hill Gate – but it might be a bit of Metropolitan Line or, horrors, Hammersmith and City – then I spent many a worried moment on that on the way to school. I think the only conveyance I’ve partied in was a boat, but that was used specifically for the purpose, I’m guessing. It wasn’t the P&O Dover-Calais crossing, for example.

100 Words, hello! And welcome! But when would this party be held? When ‘scheduled’ serviced had finally ground to a spluttering halt for the night or there’d just be one party-train that non-party-goers weren’t allowed on? It’d have made my journey to school much more pleasant if once in a while people went past with paper-hats on their heads and blowing those curly things which uncurl and make noise.

8. Appy Linguist - March 20, 2007

Helsinki has a beer tram, painted red instead of the usual green. It contains a bar and it does a circular route past lots of sights. You still see more as a tourist on the normal 3B/3T circular tram line, though, especially with the anticlockwise one, whichever that is.

(All information correct as of 97-98.)

9. Taiga the Fox - March 20, 2007

Yep, Helsinki still has got that beer tram, Spårakoff.

BiB, I’m bit bedazzled now. Always Perfect?
Are you absolutely sure it was Finland where you were studying?

10. pleite - March 20, 2007

Appy, I’m not sure I like the idea of being mobile while boozing. And can you get off the tram, should you decide, all of a sudden, you loathe the other passengers, or are you health-and-safetily obliged to stay on till it comes to a halt, whenever that may be? Mind you, I like a good public transport route. Either the 100 or 200 bus here is famed for taking in a good chunk of sights/sites. The S-Bahn can be pretty good too. (I’m turning into my mother again. She got bus-chat into yesterday’s phone-call within about one-and-a-half sentences.)

Taiga, totta kai! My love for Finland is blind and I don’t want my eyes to be opened. It’s my little fantasy island, where everything’s perfect (even the climate, in my fantasy Finland) and no-one’s ever done anything horrible and everyone loves each other. Mind you, in reality, I’ve never met a Finn I didn’t instantly fall head-over-heels in love with. Is polygamy allowed in Finland? I’d marry every willing Finn I met given half the chance.

11. Taiga the Fox - March 20, 2007

I can assure you the entire Finnish nation will love you infinitely. We will all marry you, whip you with vihtas and feed you as much mämmi as ever you want for the rest of your life.

12. Ed Ward - March 20, 2007

I think all the Spaniards in Berlin (and there are a lot of them, aren’t there?) are part of some exchange program for all the Germans who go to Ibiza and so on. “Come see what they’re trying to get away from!”

13. pleite - March 20, 2007

Taiga, is the vihta the bunch of birch-twigs for the sauna? I love the smell of the sauna, and beer in the sauna is heaven. And I like the look of that mämmi enormously. Have you tried Christmas pudding in the UK? They sound a bit similar. Dried fruit. Booze. Keep for ever. No Easter cakes/puddings in the UK, as far as I know, but there are hot cross buns – I know a German who had lived in the UK who used to have them sent to him (along with videos of UK soap operas) – and you can allow yourself a new bonnet once the hardship of Lent is over.

Ed, some migration routes surprise more than others, don’t they? I once met a pal in London and she was so livid with an Australian colleague of hers for having dared to move to the UK and bear the climate there that she planned to berate her for doing so at work that day. But the Australian had phoned in sick, no doubt hiding depressedly under her duvet from a May snowstorm or the greyest sky ever witnessed. My own personal favourites are French folk who move to grim bits of our Germanic world AND LOVE THEM. I met a French man who had a whale of a time living in Hull, on the east coast of England, on a river estuary and, perhaps, one of England’s greatest crimes against humanity. Mind you, I’ve met quite a gaggle of ‘I-hate-French-people’ French émigrés, so for many perhaps it’s as much about getting away from one place as getting to another.

14. Arabella - March 21, 2007

Such a well written and hilarious post – if I didn’t like you and you weren’t so far away I might have to slap you!
Now here’s a funny thing (Frankie Howerd voice): I’m reading ‘The Ship of Fools’ by Katherine Ann Porter. Oddly enough it is set on a ship and there are lots of Germans and a troupe of Spanish dancers. I know it will end in tears because I’ve seen the film (with Vivien Leigh).

15. pleite - March 21, 2007

Arabella, I shall look out for that. I bet there’s not a flashing Spaniard in it, though.

I feel like slapping myself for almost every word I blog. It’s a tricky old game, isn’t it? “I can’t blog that,” I think to myself, and then I mostly go ahead and press ‘publish’ anyway… and be damned (by myself).

16. Taiga the Fox - March 21, 2007

Oh yes, vihta is made of birch and it’s smell in the sauna is fantastic. Have you tried to throw beer on the hot stones? It is probably the most typical Finnish smell there is in the whole universe.

Unfortunately I haven’t had chance to taste Christmas pudding. Hmm… You must be the first person ever liking the look of mämmi, but well, if you are blindly in love…

17. Marsha Klein - March 21, 2007

What about simnel cake, or is that more associated with Mothering Sunday which, I only just found out, is all about returning home to attend your mother church and nothing to do with breakfast in bed for your favourite domestic slave. Mothers’ Day is, apparently, a cheesy American import!! However, as I don’t have a mother church (being an atheist an’ all) I say “hurrah” for cheesy American imports, especially the ones which allow me to have breakfast in bed.

Somewhere in Scotland there is a family of sikhs who, to celebrate the millenium, I think, commissioned their own tartan, which is brilliant, don’t you think?

Finnish saunas, beer and sunsets – Mmm, mmm, mmm.

18. Arabella - March 21, 2007

MMmmmmm simnel cake. I’m making one for Easter.
BiB – the film of ‘Ship of Fools’ also has in it Lee Marvin (whhoah), Simone Signoret (ditto) and that German bloke who was brilliant in ‘Jules e Jim’…Oscar Werner (not bad either).

19. pleite - March 21, 2007

Taiga, madly, passionately, blindly in love. If I ever meet M. Chirac, I’m going to ask him to retract those comments about Finnish food or challenge him to a duel. I don’t care if he’s 90. And, yes, I have had the beer-on-stones experience. In Russia too, in the ‘banya’. Lovely. Saatana, haluan mennä Suomeen tänään…

Marsha, bugger, I didn’t know anything about simnel cake. I think I have lived my whole life in various ivory towers. I’m going to ring my mother the second I finish this comment and, once we’ve done local bus news, I’m going to berate her for not teaching me about simnel cake… And isn’t breakfast in bed rather tricky? About once a millennium, I am brought coffee in bed. (The Russian receives the same honour about thrice a millennium, I reckon, which, if I’m not mistaken, makes me about three times nicer than him.) But I can’t think of a bed-position that’s comfortable for consuming. Sitting up in bed instantly gives me back-ache. Perched on one elbow … numbness. Laptopping in bed, which I do more frequently than breakfasting, I’m unromantically sorry to say, is just as logistically tricky.

Arabella, I worry my local video-store isn’t going to stretch to Ship of Fools but you never know. It’s mostly the latest Hollywood pap, preferably with guns and explosions, some German stuff and then reams and reams of porn, which you have to go through saloon-style swing-doors to get through. I haven’t bothered.

20. mountpenguin - March 21, 2007

BiB, try “Video Collection” on the corner of Schönhauser Allee / Stargarder Straße, they have more arty stuff than your average Blockbuster or whatever (though they also have a large horror / porn / horror-porn section down past the anime DVDs). Failing that there’s a place in the Danziger Str. which is even more arty (in a “get your obscure Chilean experimental films here” sort of way), the name of which escapes me right now but I’m sure someone will come up with it before I get round to looking it up.

21. pleite - March 21, 2007

My Latvian film has slightly put me off cinema for a while, but I quite fancy the sound of your Clooney-speaking-German film. That could be a hoot.

22. mountpenguin - March 21, 2007

Alas, the Clooney-speaking-German bit was quite short. There was a fair bit more of Blanchett-speaking-German, but she was pretty good at it (if it was her and not some clever trick) – I bet she had plenty of time on the Titanic voyage to practise with German emigrants.

23. BiB - March 21, 2007

The Titanic? I think you’re mixing up your Blanchetts with your Winslets, and your Cates with your Kates. Which is an easy mistake to make. I still can’t tell the difference between all those identical-to-me butch American stars that everyone in their right mind (bar heterosexual men) should fancy: Cary Grant, Robert Mitchum, Rock Hudson and a million others whose names I can’t remember.

24. BiB - March 21, 2007

…Gregory Peck…

25. mountpenguin - March 21, 2007

Ah, how embarrassingly right you are. I seem to suffer from some form of localised autism when it comes to famous people™. One of these days no doubt I shall bump into Angelina Jolie (sp?) and her equally famous boyfriend? husband? and their child / children on a Berlin street and throw them into confusion by not knowing who they are. (If they are still in Berlin, or still together).

26. daggi - March 21, 2007

Negativeland, MP.

27. narrowback - March 22, 2007

how about James Dean and Marlon Brando?

after hearing that Angelina & Brad purchased a home in F’shain I seriously considered giving up my fascination with Berlin… as my mother would say “you’re known by the company you keep” – even in the most tangential of fashions

28. Beaman - March 22, 2007

Wonderful tale and very funny. I wish some Spanish girls had shown me their bottoms whilst travelling the U-Bahn!

29. pleite - March 22, 2007

Beaman, they were such a jolly bunch that even the mooning was jolly. Perhaps I’ll now cruise the U2 – my least favourite line, actually. So slow, and through all those dead bits of Berlin – looking out for mooners.

Narrowback, but I can distinguish those two. Marlon Brando does it for me in a vest, but then again, Dubya would probably do it for me in a vest, so it’s only half a compliment. And didn’t James Dean die aged 12? Too young for me. Has he got an older brother?

Daggi, I actually thought of putting out a Public Service Request-for-Information Application to you but you came along without even needing to be pestered. Ed is right. You ARE public-spirited.

Penguin, does Brangelina walk? I don’t know how famous people stay in shape.

30. daggi - March 22, 2007

On the subject of “showing one’s arse”, MP’s little picture thing always looks to me like a naked curvy-shaped woman with a French bob-haircut photographed from behind, perhaps as she types her blog. But closer inspection suggests it is just actually a penguin. Or is it Mrs Penguin?

31. Beaman - March 22, 2007

U9 always had its fair share of good looking people. That’s probably changed since last Autumn though.

32. Beaman - March 22, 2007

Ah, I am getting all sentimental over an underground line. How utterly pitiful is that? But anyway, U9!!! Hoorah!! I’ll write a poem for my beloved old line.
‘You’ll never ride alone dear U9 train…’
Work in progress!

33. mountpenguin - March 22, 2007

@daggi: it is, actually, just a penguin. A Chinese penguin captured in Japan, but just a penguin, standing in front of a computer screen. The photo didn’t scale very well in the hands of WordPress; maybe I should take a more explicit one; or maybe it’s intriguing enough as it is.

@pleite/BiB: I presume the rich and famous have their own personal trainers who do their jogging or whatever for them.

34. narrowback - March 23, 2007

If I recall correctly James Dean was about 25 when he bit the pavement. Your citation of Grant, Mitchum, Hudson, et al just brought back memories of watching late night TV in my early teens… James Dean seemed old

35. Ed Ward - March 23, 2007

Wait, Brangelina are in F’hain, not the Scheunenviertel, which is what I heard? Whew. I was all “there goes the neighborhood” for a minute there. And yeah, I don’t know what either of ’em looks like, either.

36. mountpenguin - March 23, 2007

Details are hard to come by – everyone seems just to be quoting that Vanity Fair “exclusive” – but the rumours seem to be concentrating on the Torstraße area. (Sorry to break the bad news, Ed).

37. mountpenguin - March 23, 2007

Worse, I have an update from Germany’s Nr. 1 Tratsch’n’Klatsch-Blatt, der Spiegel, which mentions the Borsigstraße, which sounds like your neck of the woods.

38. narrowback - March 23, 2007

well my source was “people” mag – probably not the best for berlin geography

39. pleite - March 23, 2007

Narrowback, if Penguin is right, then, yes, it looks like Brangelina is a bit further west… I’ve never cottoned on to James Dean, I think because I’ve never seen him move. I’ve only ever seen him on posters. I probably had a poster of him on my own bedroom wall as a teenager, actually, thinking it was fashionable.

Penguin, how can I make your naked, French penguin-woman bigger? Or is there no way of doing that? Is she wearing black shoes?

Ed, if Penguin’s sleuthing is right… Borsigstraße! Eek! Very eek! You’ll recognise them because they’ll presumably never be without an entourage of 8 staff and they’ll have children of every race. I think it’s fair to say both of them are rather handsome, but I can’t vouch for their characters at all. Does this mean your rent is about to sky-rocket? I hope not, and that your Texas trip is being as enjoyable as all hell.

Beaman, and I shall very much look forward to reading it. And the U9 is a much-overlooked line, so needs a poem devoted to it, and you’re JUST the man for the job. Actually, the good-looking factor on the U-Bahn was one of my first pleasant surprises when I got to Berlin. I still think the locals are a pretty handsome bunch.

Daggi, did you fall for that Japanese-Chinese penguin lark? I trust your naked Frency analysis, personally.

40. mountpenguin - March 24, 2007

A more explicit and revealing version of the pinguine française is now posted on my blog.

41. pleite - March 24, 2007

And very nice she is too. Quite a portly lady, which makes me think she likes the good life, so hurrah for her!

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